March 15, 2007

Newworldaquarium – Twenty EP


“Man, Detroit is such a has been.” Ouch, eh? Those were the words I heard the other week, out of the mouth of a techno-loving friend whose opinion I trust. A person whom, I might add, was once a fully-fledged Detroit head. His comment may be unfair, it may be untrue, but it resonated somehow. With notable exceptions, the Detroit masters lost it somewhere, and went from producing some of the most sublime machine music ever to globetrotting on the residues of their former glories, using nothing but their reputation as “Detroit legend” to ensure a steady supply of drink cards and one nighters. How fascinating, then, that the so-called Neo-Detroit sound emerged—a whole new generation of (mostly European) producers carrying the torch for the “Atmospheric Detroit style,” as Delsin’s description on Discogs would have it. More than that, but Neo-Detroit is “really it,” (say it in the Sharevari voice for full effect).

Newworldaquarium’s “Twenty” is a funny record on this tip, for whilst it seeks to present itself as “Neo-Detroit” on a label famous for keepin’ the vibe alive, it’s actually more like a dodgy trance record from the mid-nineties (a time, mind you, when techno was exploring its trance-self). The sins of the father visited upon the sons? What next? Will Redshape release a jungle record? Both “Bond” and “Twenty” rely on the same swirling, delayed “da-da-da da-da-da” melodies that were hallmarks of the trance of old. This is a thin facsimile of an original trope that was itself fraught with catastrophic taste lapses. Strangely though, the three short tracks on here are really interesting, and seem to have had more thought put into them than the “normal” length ones. Brian Eno talked about his work developing the sounds for Windows and Nokia, and how he would put as much work into a three second hit as he had into a whole song. I can’t help but feeling the same thing’s happened here. Strangely though, I tend to think that lends it an interest in and of itself.

Delsin / 61 dsr/nwa4
[Peter Chambers]

December 15, 2006

The Orb - Blue Room


With longer singles coming back into vogue again, a glance back at the longest chart single in UK history seemed in order. Cleverly timed at exactly 39:58 to get under the 40 minute limitation on UK singles chart entries at the time—it reached number 8 in the summer of 1992—Dr. Alex Patterson and Co.’s “Blue Room” stands as a monolithic signpost for the ambient house movement and remains surprisingly listenable today. It may seem odd to refer to a 40-minute track as anyone’s finest “moment,” but if the moon boot fits…

In direct comparison to the Villalobos’ track, which concentrates on working a single basic idea into an infinite amount of mutations and permutations, “Blue Room” is a relative explosion of musical textures and spaces. If “Fizheuer” is a journey to the inner spaces of one’s mind via beat transmogrification, “Blue Room” is a trip to the dark side of the moon and back, complete with all the sci-fi noises and relevant vocal samples and sound effects you might expect. The track isn’t tight in the least—it’s a free-flowing mélange of sounds (Steve Hillage’s spaced-out guitar licks and bubbling percussive sounds chief among them) and textures, but it’s tethered down by the rock-solid anchors of Jah Wobble’s throbbing bass groove and the gently popping backbeat. The rhythm tracks start around the 6-minute mark, giving the track enough time to establish a mood but not to reach boredom threshold, and Patterson mixes things up from there. With such a wide palette of sounds to mix up and years of experience in this modified ambient-dub style (check back to the KLF’s masterful Chill Out album to hear Patterson cutting his teeth on a similarly long-form piece), “Blue Room” never gets old, never sits still, never blows its cool. It honestly doesn’t sound a second too long. And that bassline… oh, that bassline. It makes you see trails. The sonic detritus is interesting enough to maintain the ear’s interest; the groove is strong enough to keep heads nodding and toes tapping. “Ambient house” may have been coined a few years prior, but one could argue that this single track should play on the term’s Wikipedia page, perhaps over a shifting kaleidoscope of colors and astronomical images.

“Fizheuer” and “Blue Room” take very different paths to get where they are going, and outside of the length, there is very little in common between the two recordings on the surface—in fact, the comparison is a study of contrasts. While the Orb leave more space in their track, they also use far more sounds. While Villalobos uses only two basic pieces to construct his track (horns and drums), he is just as much of a manipulator and his track actually sounds far more dense. While criticisms may abound about both (generally from those with short attention spans), you’d certainly never hear “Blue Room” referred to as an overgrown DJ tool. Still, examining how two very different producers tackle epic-length electronic tracks can be a fun and enlightening exercise, assuming you have an afternoon to kill. Get comfy.

[Todd Hutlock]

July 14, 2006

Johannes Volk - The Mysteries of Tharsis Montes


Mission 6277 continues to be a brave imprint dedicated to exposing new talent, and thanks to label boss Jeff Mills’ belief in exposing the next generation of electronic composers, that trend should continue. Johannes Volk is the latest unknown to catch Mills’ golden ear, and based on his debut EP, there should be more to come. This vaguely Martian-themed five-tracker is chock full of deep chords, plucked-string synth sounds, skittering drum patterns, and lots and lots of atmosphere. You know, all the stuff you love about Jeff Mills records. The surprises come when, after the Mills-clone grooves of opener “Memories of the Astronaut,” the beats disappear altogether for the rest of the side. The flip returns to the Millsian Minimalism style, but one can already hear Mills himself using the ambient tracks as mix tools for his own beats. All props to Mills for being adventurous enough to release the Mission material at all, but if he keeps it up, he might just have to watch his back.

Mission 6277 / MISSION 11
[Todd Hutlock]

March 10, 2006

Philippe Cam - Somewhere Between Here and There

French producer Philippe Cam has been absent (and forgotten?) for four years now, long after his trancey trio of ambient 12 inches for Traum, and his massive “Karine” landed him plenty of comparisons to Manuel Göttsching’s “E2-E4.” “Somewhere Between Here and There,” released on Canada’s Musique Risquee, comes with remixes by label heads Deadbeat and Akufen, and also shows Cam absorbing more of the sound of his new labelmates. “Un Salon Dans Le Ciel” is akin to a more ambient Akufen production, with a gentle ticking panning back and forth, and warm, yet jerky organ stabs. Deadbeat’s remix of “Un Salon” sounds exactly like you’d expect it to, adding his signature tech-dub feel and plenty of cavernous reverb, but it still remains enjoyable while it plays. Cam’s title track on the flipside is more similar to his early material, with gorgeously lush synth pads that could brighten a room like sunlight through a window. Akufen’s remix barely tampers with the original “Somewhere,” other than replacing the breezy shuffley feel with a straighter four-on-the-floor pulse. A very enjoyable release, from an artist who needs to record more.

Musique Risquee / 008
[Michael F. Gill]

November 17, 2005

The Orb - Okie Dokie It’s The Orb On Kompakt


The definition of laziness: this album title. This album, however, is anything but. As wide-ranging as the Bicycles & Tricycles debacle, it’s safe to assume that Thomas Fehlmann had a much larger hand in the construction in this one and it shows. Early standout, “Lunik,” may be the finest pop song they’ve made since “Toxygene,” “Captain Korma” bests it, and “Can Can” is deliciously off-kilter techno. After “Cool Harbour,” they seem to call it day and turn on their delay pedals and ambient machines (which is fine by the way), but the first half of this record is something a lot more potent than anything they’ve released (not on Kompakt) for some time. Thanks Thomas. Keep the Dr. out of the studio more often, OK?

Kompakt / KOMPAKT CD 45
[Todd Burns]

June 9, 2005

Markus Guentner - 1981

There are some huge differences between 1981 and In Moll. Problem is: the best moments on the record are when Guentner relies on old tricks. That’s why “Jellyfish” and “Hi-Jacked” are great, but should have been saved for a pseudonym and a double-sided schaffel-tastic 12” elsewhere and they should have been replaced with the hazy ambience that we come to expect from Guentner’s Kompakt work. If there were ever a time for thanks-for-not-fucking-with-the-formula criticism (the rest of the time), though, this is it. There’s something to be said for the Namlookian ideal of slow-moving ambient innovations that Guentner is undergoing. I just wish he’d adhere to Pete’s release schedule. Or maybe not.

Kompakt KOM 115 / KOMPAKT CD 39
[Todd Burns]